At Large

At Large

Nigeria’s Internal Insecurity State

By 3.28.14

ABUJA, NIGERIA—Like so many developing states, Nigeria showcases poverty while exhibiting potential. People are entrepreneurial but the state is exploitative. Wealth is made but too often stolen. Evidence of security—which really means insecurity—is everywhere.

Americans also suffer from crime, of course. But most of us fly around the country without giving the matter much thought. We hop into our cars without a bodyguard joining us. There are areas a smart traveler wouldn’t go. But most folks in the U.S. rarely imagine the potential of a daylight robbery or kidnapping.

Not so in Nigeria, however. I traveled with a journalist group on a business tour. We were met by representatives of the organizer, along with a driver and two national policemen armed with AK-47s. When we convoyed with figures of business or political note the guard multiplied dramatically.

All of my hotels around the country—Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt—had metal detectors. High walls and gates manned by armed security personnel. And multiple security guards, at the entrance, wandering the grounds, and even stationed by the elevators on each floor overnight.

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The Classroom Plot

By 3.12.14

A demand for segregation of the sexes. A requirement for Islam-focused religious studies.

A ''Trojan Horse'' plot to remove Principals who won’t comply.

Welcome to Britain’s latest struggle with Sunni Islamist extremism — the battle of the classroom.

On Friday, the Birmingham News local news outlet to Britain’s second largest city — reported that self-styled ''jihadists'' are seeking to destabilize a number of Birmingham schools.

Their target — those institutions that will not yield to their agenda.

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At Large

Pain in the India Partnership

By 3.7.14

Of late, the news from India has been dismaying. Economic growth according to the International Monetary Fund has declined to 4.6 per cent for fiscal 2014, nowhere near the high single digits achieved in recent years that delivered tens of millions out of poverty. Inflation estimated at almost 10 percent for 2013 is a major challenge for the Reserve Bank of India, the nation’s central bank. Aggressive deregulation of massive government bureaucracy which had come to be known as License Raj has stalled, as has privatization of state-owned enterprises with the decline of the Rupee and investor confidence. Foreign direct investment has also been a disappointment, reflecting unease about tax policies, political risk, and governance. Agriculture, which employs over half the work force but represents only 17 percent of GDP, has not received the emphasis of the Green Revolution which started in the late 1960s.

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Six Years and Counting

By 3.4.14

Twenty years ago, Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, decided to reinvent itself as the financial and business hub of the Middle East — a latter day Hong Kong and Singapore rolled into one.

The leaders planned a frenzy of building activity, but lacked skilled managers to oversee the projects. They found expatriates to do the job, Americans and other Westerners. Zack Shahin of Ohio was one of them. He joined Deyaar, a developer formed by local investors. He became its CEO and oversaw several major projects. The board was so pleased it awarded him a $100,000 performance bonus.

Then, on March 23, 2008, undercover agents walked into a meeting and took him away without explanation. He was kept in solitary confinement for days and finally ordered to sign a document in Arabic (which he could not read) confessing to misappropriating company money.

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What Will Putin Do?

By 2.26.14

“Fluid” is the one word that describes the rapid flow of events in Ukraine over the last five days. The unpopular President, Viktor Yanukovych, decamped from Kiev for parts unknown; the parliament appointed a new government; finance officials kept telephone lines busy talking with European and U.S. Treasury counterparts to try to put together a $35 billion aid package needed to bail out the country’s damaged economy.

The bailout would take weeks and, put through the International Monetary Fund, would require unpopular reforms such as currency devaluation and reductions of state subsidies of natural gas (which comes from Russia).

That, in turn raises a very big question: What will Putin do? To keep his plans to himself, he has stood aside, letting Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expand the Russian narrative to the effect that the months of protest were the work of paid “foreign” agents; that Yanukovych’s ouster was a “coup” and the new government is “illegitimate.”

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Afghanistan Realities

By 2.24.14

Has anyone asked what exactly the United States seeks to have in a post-Karzai Afghanistan? Presumably Washington has given up on the idea of a traditional Western democracy. The country is just not culturally disposed in that manner. Pashtun tribal councils dominate in their primarily south and eastern regions and similar socio-ethnic situations exist in the northern and western areas of Tajiks, Hazara, and Uzbeks. Smaller ethnic groupings spread around the nation. For the ordinary American citizen footing the bill, there has been no explanation as to why Afghanistan is strategically important to the U.S. There are no dominoes to fall; there is no great energy wealth to protect or seaways to dominate.

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Afghanistan: No Reason for Retreat

By 2.14.14

Two American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. By two soldiers of the Afghan National Army.

It’s happened again. Another “green on blue” tragedy. Two soldiers who, wearing their flag on their sleeves, left their families to help the Afghan people. Two soldiers who now return home in flag-draped coffins.

Nevertheless, even amidst the anger of another brutal betrayal, it’s crucial that we keep strategic perspective. We must recognize that there are a number of reasons for “green on blue” incidents. That for all their horror, these attacks constitute a tiny minority of Afghan-ISAF interactions.

For all the doubt that these Judas-soldiers foster, the situation in Afghanistan is improving. If we’re sensible, we’ll reject the false choice between Afghanistan’s stability and bringing our troops home.

We can do both.

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These Amazing Olympics

By 2.12.14

The Olympics are supposed to be a joyous time of patriotic celebration, coupled with the exotic trappings of faux international cooperation, peppered with the excitement of possible infection from foreign bacteria — and Sochi has not disappointed.

American athletes have excelled at the “extreme sports,” which, frankly, require a uniquely American obliviousness to massive internal injury. Vladimir Putin has taken only underhanded swipes at Barack Obama. Bob Costas has taken to drinking his host country’s signature libation on-air as a direct result of a double eye infection.

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Mexico Every Way But Loose

By 2.10.14

There was a time when Morelia, the capital of Michoacán State, would be a tourist destination for anyone visiting Mexico City just over 300 miles away. Morelia was the still preserved colonial city of quaint shops and fruit stalls — all dominated by the town’s rose-colored baroque cathedral. This was the quiet and quaint Mexican city that the tourism ministry wanted all foreigners to perceive as representing true Mexico. Today this beleaguered town may still represent Mexico, but in a very different manner.

The physical charm of Michoacán remains the same with its Pacific coastline matched against alternating rocky heights and green fields. The verdant fertility of the countryside often carried the perfume of citrus groves and avocado crops. Now the same green fields dominate but also hold rivaling stretches of marijuana planting and hidden meth labs. It’s definitely not a good tourist destination: Every inch is being fought over by the large landowners and the dueling drug traffickers who have raped the countryside.

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Another North Korean Crossroad

By 2.3.14

There has been a well-defined pattern to negotiations pursued over the decades by North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — DPRK). It may be wishful thinking, but that pattern appears to have just changed and it looks like the Obama White House and John Kerry’s State Department have either missed it or chose to ignore the alteration.

The South Korean president, Ms. Park Geun-hye, sensing something different in the diplomatic climate, took the necessary first step in reconciliation on January 6, 2014 by again offering the possibility of resuming the reunion of relatives from North and South suspended since 2010. After a pro forma rejection Pyongyang quickly shifted ground in a few days and returned the same offer. The possibility of the effectively mutual gesture long had been available, but the timing now was right. The reason for the change in the position of the DPRK is what is most important.

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